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CNN TONIGHT

War with the Media 2.0; Hanging By a Thread; Party Members Not Voting for Healthcare Bill; Interview with Rep. Peter King; President's Next Move to DPRK. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 28, 2017 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That could mean to some difficulties initially at American airports as custom officials try to figure out who has a legitimate claim to entering and who does not. We'll be covering it all.

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. See you again tomorrow night. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN TONIGHT starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: The speech the president doesn't want you to hear.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

The president spoke at his first re-election fund-raiser tonight at his own Trump International Hotel down the street from the White House. You might think that the president would want you to hear what went on in that fund-raiser, probably a lot of pretty positive things said about him and his administration, but after first saying reporters would be allowed to cover the speech, the White House changed its mind tonight blaming logistical challenges and confusion with the RNC.

And by the way, just so you know, Presidents Obama and Bush, George W., allowed reporters into their first fund-raising events.

So let's get right to CNN political director, David Chalian, CNN's Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent. Kaitlan Collins, senior White House reporter, and CNN political analyst, Abby Phillip. Also with us, Amie Parnes, a senior political reporter for the Hill and co- author of "Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign."

So, good to have all of you this evening. Jim, I'm going to start with you.

JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Sure.

LEMON: The administration facing a major hurdle on healthcare. And the White House again refused to hold a live on-camera press briefing hours after the president took to Twitter to attack the media. He's calling out CNN, he's calling out the Washington Post, the New York Times among other news organizations as fake news. Is it a war on free press? Is that the strategy of this White House? ACOSTA: It's definitely part of the strategy over here at the White

House, Don, and here's why. The president does not have any major legislative achievements to speak of at this point. He's trying to get healthcare passed. He talked about the surprise that is apparently in store for all of us in the coming days, but we've heard the president talk about surprises before.

He talked about possible tapes that he had of Jim Comey, that did not materialize. And this is a healthcare bill, Don, that is, if you look at the various polls that came out today, somewhere between 12 and 25 percent. That is just not going to get the job done. When you talk to GOP sources, I talked to a number of them tonight, one GOP source said you're just not going to get 50 senators to support that kind of legislation.

And by the way, this war on the media is also a useful distraction when you have this fund-raiser taking place down the street at the Trump International Hotel. Which, by the way, I don't know if we've really focused on this enough, it's being held inside a federal building.

The Trump company, the Trump organization, actually leases that building from the federal government. So, the fund-raiser tonight is not only for the president's re-election campaign, you know, within six months of his administration, it's being held in a federal building. So.

LEMON: Yes, and that's where Kaitlan Collins is standing right now, Jim.

ACOSTA Yes.

LEMON: Hey, listen, I want to get David real quick. David, let's talk more about this whole thing with the press. Yesterday's press briefing was on camera. A good portion of it was to attack the press. And unfairly do it. Is this about the president needing an enemy?

DAVID CHALIAN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CNN: Yes, in part, don, it is. I mean, it is an attempt to discredit the news media which at times when reporting what is happening could be critical of the Trump administration, of the president, himself, and the facts may not stack up exactly how he likes them.

So, if he engages in the campaign to discredit the news media, then his supporters will trust much more in his Twitter feed than they will in the facts of the matter being reported by the news. The other piece of this is, of course, to stoke his supporters.

I mean, this is -- this is something that he has dipped in the well on many, many times. To take on the press, take on the mainstream media, in a way to get his supporters more wound up and excited to support him. This is a very convenient foil for him.

LEMON: Yes, but the interesting thing is that his supporters will believe it, but most -- most other Americans will not believe it. And Amie, yet, because remember, the president, he picked up the phone

and called the Washington Post's Bob Costa, the New York Times' Maggie Haberman. He's done that a number of times. But he calls them after this first healthcare failure. He bashes the media but then he needs us, too.

AMIE PARNES, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Yes. That's the thing, he does need his message to kind of come through, and he's having trouble with that. And he needs to do what other presidents have done in the past.

I mean, sure, they use their own venues. President Obama would often do his own video chats and videos, that sort of thing, to talk directly to the American people. But, and, you know, Donald Trump uses Twitter as his megaphone. But he does need the press, too, particularly because he doesn't have a message that's getting out there and penetrating. And I think that's problematic for him.

[22:04:54] LEMON: Abby, I have to ask you, two former presidential press secretaries, Ari Fleischer, Mike McCurry, they came out today on Twitter with identical statements to say this. "That we support no live TV coverage of the White House briefing, embargo it and let it be use but not as live TV. Better for the public, the White House and the press."

So, Abby, Ari is arguing here that having no live coverage would make things less combative. What do you think about that?

ABBY PHILIP, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes, I've talked to both Ari and Mike about this very issue, at length. And I think both of them are coming from the perspective of people who were running press briefings at a time when they were first being televised and broadcast in a sort of 24-hour format and I think they view them as different from the kinds of interactions that they might have with reporters when they're not in front of the camera when they're in their office or when they're in a sort of intimate gaggle setting.

And frankly, I think you'll find a lot of White House reporters that don't necessarily disagree with that idea. The problem is, what is the objective here of the White House? This Trump White House pulling back from on-camera briefings.

And also, you know, restricting them in other ways. The briefings have been in many ways much shorter. They begin with, recently with these sort of really long sessions that are essentially one-way conversations with policy experts which can be a good thing, but it all sort of leads people to believe that maybe what they're trying to do is avoid questions and avoid their answers being broadcast publicly and widely.

And so if the White House wanted to take Mike McCurry and Ari Fleischer's advice, they could do that, they could potentially embargo the information for until a period after the briefing is actually over, but they're not doing that. They're shrinking the scope of the briefing and they're pulling it all the way back from the cameras and for a while there, they didn't want the audio played, either. So there's a different objective here.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Hey, Don...

LEMON: Well, what they could do is just answer the questions. Go ahead, Jim.

ACOSTA: ... can I bring up -- can I bring up a question about this, also? I saw this proposal from McCurry and Fleischer earlier today. Here's one of the flaws in that proposal. What if there's a terrorist attack? What if there's a hurricane? What if there's an earthquake? And there's a need for a live briefing here at the White House to talk about what's going on in the country.

You know, those kinds of occasions do arise, as you remember with Ferguson. Can you imagine if we did not have a live briefings at the White House during Ferguson, for example? And so the question becomes, does the White House control the switch? Do they get to make it live when they want it to be live? Do they get to switch it off when they don't want it to be live?

There are cameras, Don, as we talked about the other night, our cameras, our lights, it's our briefing room. It's not their briefing room.

LEMON: Yes, and it's, you know, it us 2017, I mean, should we go back to dialup as well?

ACOSTA: Right.

LEMON: I mean, it's kind of ridiculous. Why don't they just answer the questions?

ACOSTA: Yes.

LEMON: And then that way -- because reporters, listen, I've seen more combative interviews, by the way, I haven't forgot about you, Kaitlan, don't worry about it. But I've seen more combative interviews in the past than you, Jim Acosta, during this. I mean, you know, if you look back, if you go back and look at combative interviews in White House briefings, I don't think that you're at the top of the list. This is all...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: I'm just a big teddy bear, Don, you know that.

LEMON: ... a ruse. But it's all a ruse. And we know that.

CHALIAN: And it's not serving them very well.

LEMON: Yes.

CHALIAN: The -- to Amie's point earlier, what is amazing, Don, is that it's not really working. I mean, I get that it works with the base, but the president is in the mid-30s in overall support. His healthcare bill is down between 12 percent and 20 percent support. This strategy isn't working for them.

LEMON: And just, but yelling a question is not combative. You're asking a question that they won't answer. But listen, here's the weird thing, because the president has contradicted what Sean Spicer and what the two former press secretaries are saying.

Because you remember when Sean Spicer was on the chopping block and the president said, you know, I'm not going to fire Sean Spicer because he gets great ratings, everybody tunes in. Do you remember that? So this is exactly -- it's not like the president hates a spectacle.

ACOSTA: A spectacle that served him well throughout his career, right? The whole basis of his reality TV success was building up a spectacle on a weekly basis. My sense is, Don, that this talk of a big surprise in health care is yet another big apprentice like...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: A tease.

ACOSTA: ... attempt. A tease to get us all to tune in and what if at the very end of this there is no surprise, it's another Jim Comey tapes nothing burger?

LEMON: Yes. I want people to see the hypocrisy here. It's not they were -- listen, reporters, we in media are used to, you know, we, taking the tough questions. Getting criticized. But this is just more about pointing out the hypocrisy in all this.

So listen, we're not complaining here. We're just pointing it out to you, everyone.

Kaitlan, you're reporting on the president's first re-election fund- raiser blocks from the White House over at Trump International Hotel. And you heard what Jim said about that building you're standing in front of. The media was disinvited from covering it. What happened?

[22:09:56] KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: Yes, the president delivered remarks here tonight at his first re-election campaign and there was no media in the room to listen to what he had to say.

We started the day out where the media was not going to be allowed in this event, and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders justified this by saying it's a political event and they're keeping that separate from the president's other events.

Well, after some prodding from the press, they decided to let the media in and then two hours later they cited a logistical reason and said that they could no longer let a few pen and pad reporters and one camera into the room where 300 people were already going to be with the president. Now, I'm not sure what that logistical issue would be, but there

wouldn't be one if they already planned to let the press into this event tonight. It is not usual for them to not have the press in when the president is delivering remarks. And tonight, there was no media in that room.

LEMON: Yes, and if there's a capacity thing, you know, there's such a thing as a pool camera where you let one person in and they give it to everyone. And a pool reporter and they can give all the information to everyone. So, Kaitlan, also, there's a question, there are questions over who's paying for this thing, where the money is going. What do you know about that?

COLLINS: Well, we have a lot of questions and not many answers. I've asked repeatedly today from the RNC, from Trump's 2020 campaign, and from the hotel who is paying for this event tonight and we have not gotten any answers. We don't know if the hotel donated this space, if the 2020 campaign is paying for it or if the RNC is funding it. We don't know. So the president hosted an event here in this room behind me tonight, and we do not know who paid for it.

LEMON: And, again, George W. Bush and President Obama allowed the media into their first fund-raising events.

ACOSTA: Very swamp-like, Don.

LEMON: Yes. It is warm there in D.C., so, Kaitlan, thank you very much. Everybody else, I want you to stay with me.

When we come back, what has the president actually gotten done so far and what is he claiming he's accomplished?

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President playing the role of cheerleader in chief today on the healthcare, with the Senate GOP bill hanging in the balance.

Back now with my panel. David, in vintage on Donald Trump fashion, the president gave us a television tease on healthcare today. Jim mentioned that just a moment ago. He's promising a big surprise. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Healthcare is working along very well. We could have a big surprise with a great healthcare package. So, now they're happy.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean by big surprise?

TRUMP: I think you're going to have a great, great surprise. It's going to be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: So, the president, David, hasn't delivered on healthcare yet,

but I want to talk about what the president has accomplished. The White House says the media doesn't do it enough. So, let's do it. What are the president's biggest accomplishments so far?

CHALIAN: Well, I put together a little list here of some of the initial accomplishments. By far, his biggest accomplishment I think, and cleanest victory, is the Neil Gorsuch nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court. Now associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. That was to great fanfare and without much trouble.

So, that is a big feather in the president's cap. He removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership just like he said he would. He removed the United States from the Paris climate accord like he said he would. He just signed into law this Veterans Affairs reform bill that he campaigned on in light of the V.A. scandal that CNN was part of exposing.

And, of course, he promised to disrupt Washington and I think it is quite certain he's done that. So, there's a list of some accomplishments and the White House would even have a longer list.

LEMON: It is. Listen, and I don't want to take anything away from the president, trust me, the Neil Gorsuch thing, though, it happened under the president's watch. He did nominate him, but isn't that Mitch McConnell -- Mitch McConnell made that happen.

CHALIAN: Well, I don't know. I mean, this -- putting a justice on the court is the responsibility of the president. Obviously, the Senate has the advice and consent role, but, remember, he put out a list of potential people he would choose from to allow -- and this was largely to get republicans onboard who were concerned that he wouldn't be conservative enough in his court appointees.

So he puts out a list fully vetted by all the outside conservative interest groups, gets the whole party onboard so he walked in unified fashion into the nomination.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So even some democrats onboard as well.

CHALIAN: To replace Scalia. I'm sorry?

LEMON: There were even some democrats on board.

CHALIAN: Yes. And at the end of the day, there were some democrats onboard, exactly.

LEMON: Jim, the White House like to attack the media for not paying attention to the good things, but oftentimes the agenda is overshadowed by the president's own affinity for pedaling fake news, right?

ACOSTA: That's right. And I just very quickly want to echo what David Chalian was saying. I think that the White House, the president also handled the Justice Gorsuch matter very well, that from start to finish was handled extremely well by this White House. They did not put forward a nominee who was scandal-ridden or anything along those lines.

But you're right, Don, when it comes to, and the president likes to tweet about this all the time and hit us calling us fake news, but let's just put something on screen here to put things in perspective.

The President of the United States is also a purveyor of fake news. And I shouldn't say also like we are. He is, himself, a purveyor of fake news. He is the founding father of 'birtherism,' the claims that President Obama -- the false claim that President Obama was born in another country. President Obama was born in Hawaii.

He came out right after his inauguration and said his inauguration crowds were bigger than President Obama's when they weren't. We have photographic evidence from the National Park service to prove that point. He alleged that millions of undocumented people voted against him and gave Hillary Clinton the popular vote in the 2016 election.

The White House is just finally cobbling together a voter fraud commission that is going to investigate this. At the end of the day, Don, they're going to find out there was not millions of people voting fraudulently in this country as we all know.

He accused President Obama of wiretapping him at Trump tower. As we followed that saga for several weeks, it started off as a claim of wiretapping then it became overall surveillance and then they were hitting Susan Rice for unmasking people improperly and then never produced any kind of evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower.

And then he hinted at those James Comey tapes that never existed and I think, Don, this is the reason why the president has only held one news conference, one full news conference since coming into office, that one in February. It's because if he holds a news conference, we're going to ask all of these questions.

What about the wiretapping at Trump Tower? What about the Jim Comey tapes? He just is not going to have answers for any of that. And that is why he's been avoiding these kinds of questions.

LEMON: He's trying to get the support, Jim, on two immigration bills. It's energy week at the White House, but, again, with the press briefings not consistently being on camera, it seems like it's a missed opportunity for this White House to talk about those things if they want to get accomplished.

[22:20:05] ACOSTA: It really was. I mean, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the deputy press secretary, she came into the briefing room today, she slammed the news media, and said, well, if we didn't have immigration officials who came out into the briefing room today by surprise, you would have never covered them.

But at the same time, because they did not have the cameras on, those officials received less coverage. Don, there were some pretty illuminating moments, just for a second here, the acting ICE director came out and essentially acknowledged that there are only 11 to 12 undocumented immigrants in this country.

President Trump when he was a candidate out on the campaign trail said that there were 30 million undocumented people in this country, another example of fake news.

And so, you know, there was one other moment where the acting ICE director talked about the fact that undocumented people don't commit more crime than natural born American citizens. That was something I pressed the acting ICE director on. And he acknowledged that, yes, undocumented people do not commit crimes at a higher level than native-born Americans.

And so, this was -- this was an opportunity the White House had to have all of this on camera, and because of their own restrictions, they kind of blew it.

LEMON: Well, I mean, maybe there was a strategy there because they keep saying, again, that undocumented people commit more crimes. And that you said 11 to 12 million he said, and not the 30 some million according to the White House. Maybe they didn't want that part to get out.

ACOSTA: I don't know, but today was a day when they wanted to focus on -- yes, well, today was a day when they wanted to focus on the so- called -- they called them victims of undocumented criminals. And yes, there have been cases, tragic cases where undocumented criminals have killed people in this country.

But the larger point is that they don't do that at a higher rate than native-born Americans and one of the things that the president pedaled out on the campaign trail is that undocumented people are scary in this country. And what we were trying to get at during this briefing today with these immigration officials is that that's just simply not the case, you know.

And I think that there were moments there when the White House could have gotten their message across. Yes, there were hard questions. But Don, maybe you're right to some extent, when the cameras are off, and perhaps there's less coverage they do feel like their message is a little more unfiltered.

But at the same -- the reason why I don't buy that is because had they just -- had the cameras on live, you know, those officials would have had at least for a brief period of time during that briefing unfiltered coverage.

LEMON: Yes, live coverage.

ACOSTA: Yes.

LEMON: The entire time they were up there. I have to get Abby and Amie in. So, Abby, you put it this way, you said President Trump wakes up every day and sets an agenda against what his staff wants.

PHILIP: Yes, I mean, just think about it. You just said it's energy week. He wants to talk about these immigration bills that they're pushing through that are part of his agenda, but what has he tweeted about for the last three days? He's woken up every single morning and he's tweeted about Russia, he's tweeted about the fake news media. He's tweeted about everything else but his agenda.

And that is, I think, incredibly problematic on a really -- a really broad way for this White House. It highlights one of the main problems that they have which is getting the president to remain focused on the agenda. To have a laser-like focus on that stuff.

They established an entire sort of outside system to deal with Russia questions, and yet, the president continues to sort of feed this narrative and feed the story line forcing these stories onto the front pages every day.

There is a sort of widespread feeling on the Hill and elsewhere in the sort of political class in Washington among republicans, that this White House has lack of discipline and that lack of discipline comes straight from the top.

LEMON: Amie, the president loves to talk about all the things that he has already gotten done in Washington, but as we have said before, while the president has signed many bills and executive orders, there's still no major piece of legislation that he can point to.

PARNES: No, and that's the problem. And I'm hearing a lot of complaints from donors, from people who voted for him, even though a large part of his base, obviously, supports him, there's a lot of grumbling going on that he, as Abby said, lacks message, lacks disciple.

The one thing with the Gorsuch rollout, it was smooth, to Jim's point. And so I think, you know, he needs to kind of hone in on what he wants to focus on, not be so distracted, not mention Russia in every other tweet and the media and fake news.

He needs to really focus on his message and be more disciplined and maybe take a note from what President Obama did, how he was pretty focused on kind of pushing his agenda forward, even when there were so many distractions around his presidency.

LEMON: And Amie, but he seems it be obsessed with his predecessor, don't you think?

PARNES: Yes. And with Hillary Clinton. And that's why, you know, the election is still going on in many ways. He still feels kind of undermined by what happened, that he didn't quite get and win the popular vote, so he feels the need to kind of talk about that and talk about how he won still.

[22:25:03] This is all problematic for him. And I think you're hearing a lot of that and it's why his communications director was so frustrated and why, you know, he ended up kind of throwing up his hands in the air after a while. People around him are really frustrated by his lack of discipline.

LEMON: The Obamas are vacationing in all the most wonderful places and are very tan and happy. Just let it go. They served their time in the White House and the American people. Thank you, I appreciate it.

When we come back, Senate republicans' health bill still polling low, really low. And my next guest, a top GOP congressman who voted for the House version of the bill, says if they can't repeal all of Obamacare, hey, that's democracy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump promising what he calls a big surprise on healthcare just one day after Senate republicans put off voting on their bill until after the July 4th recess.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think we're going to get it over the line. It was a great, great feeling in that room yesterday.

[22:29:57] And what also came out is the fact that this healthcare would be so good, would be far better than Obamacare. We'll see what happens. We're working very hard. We've given ourselves a little bit more time to make it perfect. That's what we want to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, joining me now is Congressman Peter King, a New York republican. Congressman, thank you so much. You voted for the House side on the House side for this bill. But you said you can't support the Senate bill. Why do you oppose your own party's bill at least at this point?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, I certainly want Obamacare repealed, I want it replaced but I voted for the bill coming out of the House even though I was concerned about the two things, one about the pre-existing condition language, and the other one was on the severe cuts to Medicaid, especially to a state like New York.

The Senate did, as far as I can tell, take care of the pre-existing conditions questions, but if anything, they've made the more severe cuts in Medicaid. We can argue whether or not the benefits of the Medicaid program, the fact is, they're in place and to be really uprooting them as much as they are and really as quickly as the bill proposes is going to cause real impact to hospitals in New York and to lower-income people in New York, but also middle-income people, for instance, people with Alzheimer's who are in nursing homes.

LEMON: Yes.

KING: Kids suffering from opioid crisis. I mean, these are all issues which I think are really almost separate from Obamacare. We should have dealt with Obamacare, but as far as these big cuts in Medicaid, that should have been really the product of extensive hearings and deliberations. So...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, because the CBO estimates that the Senate bill would cut Medicaid spending by $772 billion and cause a 16 percent drop in enrollment. As you say, that is -- that's a big problem for you and for a lot of people.

But I want to know about this, you had a long discussion with Senator Susan Collins about the Senate bill this week. Collins says that she won't vote to move the bill until she sees significant changes. What more does she tell you?

KING: Basically we were just talking about the impact of Medicaid in her state and my state. I mean, they're two different states and she's -- rural hospitals, I have the New York City hospitals, also the hospitals on Long Island which I believe are the largest employer, not just in my district, but in all of Long Island.

And basically we were just talking about how -- again, I don't want to be giving too much away, but basically the impact of the Medicaid cuts. Listen, I admit there is waste in Medicaid, there is in some cases too much spending. We should do it with a scalpel, not with a sledgehammer. And that's the concern I have.

Listen, I think Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, they mean the very best. They're trying to make this work within the reconciliation process. But it's a -- listen, I want to find a way to vote for it but right now the impact it would have on my district would be very severe.

LEMON: Yes. Right now, congressman, nine senators oppose the healthcare bill, three of them came out against it after Mitch McConnell delayed the vote. Former republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, remember when he famously said Obamacare repeal wasn't going to happen because republicans can't agree on what the healthcare bill should look like?

What do you think republicans should include in this bill? Is it basically Medicaid or Medicare that you're concerned about?

KING: Yes, it's Medicaid I'm concerned about now and the problem is because we're doing it with very restrictive, really -- within the budget, within the tax code, we can't, for instance, come out with proposals like buying and selling insurance across state lines, affordability of insurance.

Those are all policy issues and that can't be brought up at this time. So, many of the real reforms to Obamacare and to healthcare, we can't deal with them. We have to do it strictly on a numbers basis.

LEMON: And then it's not only the Congress people, right, and the senators. Let's talk about the poll numbers. This is American people today. This is a USA Today poll. Twelve percent of approval of this bill from the Senate. And then Fox News has 27 percent approval for the bill. There were two more new polls from NPR and Quinnipiac that fall within the range of 12 to 27 percent. But those are some pretty low numbers, congressman, aren't they?

KING: Yes, they are. I know, for instance, even though my district has more democrats than republicans, President Trump carried it by nine points in the last election and yet polls I've seen show it down in the low 30s as far as the repeal is concerned.

A majority of people want Obamacare repealed. That I've seen the polls. Not by a large majority, anyway, but a small majority, at least in downstate New York. On the other hand, only about 30, 32 percent, actually support the House plan, never mind the Senate plan.

LEMON: Yes. So, for republicans who have spent the last seven years running on repealing Obamacare, is it OK if you don't get healthcare passed? Because President Trump said that he would be OK if the bill doesn't pass.

[22:35:03] KING: Well, listen, we have to try and get something passed but it's wrong to pass something for the sake of passing it. I think if we can pass a smaller package, if we can, first of all, it's almost like the do no harm.

What we should try to do is repeal what we can and has to be limited, so be it, it will be limited, then we can still have the next three years of President Trump's administration to do it bit by bit. Including being able to sell insurance across the state lines.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Can I ask you something, congressman? So, if repealing it is -- tweaking it or fixing it is off the table, it's got to be repealed and replaced.

KING: No, I'm saying -- you're saying do I feel it has to be repealed? No. Listen, I would like it ultimately, if we could start over again, yes, repeal, replace Obamacare. I'm just saying the realities of the 60-votes threshold in the Senate and then the 51 votes on reconciliation, I think that is much more plausible to do it in smaller pieces.

LEMON: OK. But that doesn't mean tweaking Obamacare, you want to get rid of it.

KING: Well, again, as much of it as we can, but, again, I'm being realistic.

LEMON: All right.

KING: I'm saying it has to be done piece by piece. But ultimately if we can repeal all of it or a lot of it, listen, it has to be still be a certain amount of Medicaid. It still the fact is people are into a system, it's going to be hard to get them out of it, so I want to do it in a way that we're not hurting anyone. If it takes it two, three, four, five, years to do it, fine. If we don't repeal all of it, that's you know, that's democracy.

LEMON: Interesting take. Congressman Peter King. Much appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

KING: Don, thank you very much.

LEMON: When we come back, senior officials in the Trump administration are frustrated with the president. Why they say he isn't taking Russia's meddling in the election seriously enough.

And in our next hour, Sally Yates criticizing President Trump's behavior. Why she says he's lowering the bar.

[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly warning today that election hacking is, quote, "the way of the future." Meanwhile, sources telling CNN President Trump's apparent unwillingness to publicly call out the Kremlin for election interference has some administration officials feeling frustrated.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now with this new reporting. Hello, Sara. You've been reporting this all day. What are you learning from inside the White House?

SARA MURRAY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Don, multiple senior administration officials say that they've been struggling to convince President Trump that Russia still poses a threat to the integrity of America's elections.

In fact, one official told me, there's, quote, "no evidence to show Trump is actively engaging on this issue." Now, the president still gets his daily briefings and, of course, that includes updates on Russia, but beyond that, an administration officials says there's no paper trail. No schedules, no read outs, no briefing documents, really nothing to indicate the president is convening meetings or roundtables on this subject the way he has with other threats, for instance, threats against the U.S. power grid.

Now on top of that, sources tell my colleague Dana Bash and Jim Sciutto that National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers actually expressed to lawmakers how frustrated he is that he can't convince Trump to even accept U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election.

LEMON: So, Sara, top intelligence officials have called this a major threat, why is the president so reluctant to address it?

MURRAY: Well, Don, people who have spoken to the president about this say he's really struggling to separate the investigation into his campaign's possible collusion with Russia from this investigation into Russia's meddling in the election, itself.

One source close to the president said Trump sees everything regarding Russia as being organized to challenge him, basically a move to undermine his presidency.

LEMON: What are you hearing from the White House on this?

MURRAY: Well, the White House is pushing back on this. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insists Trump is taking this threat seriously and says the White House is taking action, they're just doing it quietly.

So in a statement, Spicer says "The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber activity and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism."

now, Spicer also pointed to the fact that the Trump administration has upheld the Obama administration sanctions against Russia but congressional sources say the White House is already trying to water down an additional package of sanctions that's already passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House. Don?

LEMON: Sara Murray, thank you very much. I want to discuss all of this now with Ambassador James Woolsey, the former director of the CIA, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Thank you, all, for -- thank you, both, for coming on. Admiral Kirby, I'm going to start with you. Nicholas Burns, the former State Department official under President Bush testified before the Senate intelligence committee today on the threat of Russian influence in our election. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO NATO: I find it dismaying and objectionable that President Trump continues to deny the undeniable fact that Russia launched a major cyber-attack against the United States.

It is his duty, President Trump's, to be skeptical of Russia. It's his duty to investigate and defend our country against cyber offenses because Russia's our most dangerous adversary in the world today. And if he continues to refuse to act, it's a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Admiral Kirby, those are strong words. Do you agree?

JOHN KIRBY, MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST, CNN: I do. I do. There's nobody, in my mind, more respectable or reputable on this issue than Ambassador Burns and I completely agree with his view.

It is stunning to me that this president has not since the election acknowledged overtly that Russia had a role here. That they tried to meddle in the election. That they tried to affect the outcome.

Now again, whether they did or not is an issue for a different day. And certainly there's investigations going on about the degree to which the campaign was involved or not. But that he still can't bring himself to acknowledge what 17 intelligence agencies have acknowledged publicly, that's stunning to me.

LEMON: Ambassador Woolsey, you heard Sara Murray's report, why can't the president separate election tampering and how threatening this is to our future elections from investigations of collusion?

[22:45:05] JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I don't know. My -- I think the two previous speakers were right and my overall impression here is you haven't seen nothing yet. The Russians will top up their efforts to undercut our whole way of life and our whole political structure.

They go after religions as well, the Catholic Church, Jewish groups. They call it disinformation. And what's new is not that they're doing it or trying to do it. What's new is the technology of cyber makes it possible for them to reach across oceans and do terrible things that they would have had a physically and much harder time doing just a very few years ago.

I'm not sure why the president can't -- doesn't seem to be, anyway, sorting this out because this Russian problem is going to get big, going to get worse. We have got to take some strong steps with respect to our voting machines or we're going to have Mr. Putin casting our votes in 17 months. And I don't think we want that.

LEMON: Admiral Kirby, is it fair to say that President Trump is weak on Russia?

KIRBY: I think what it is, my view is, he's looking at Russia through a soda straw. And every time he thinks about it, every time somebody brings it to his attention, every time it's mentioned, he thinks that any discussion of the Russian hacking is a threat to the legitimacy of his win.

How many times does this guy talk about how he won the election? He was just doing it gain a couple days ago. Any discussion of Russia, in his mind, gets to challenging the legitimacy of his election win.

And so, yes. I think, he, personally, has not been very strong or bullish on Russia in ways that are appropriate for the commander in chief, but, Don, I do think we need to give credit to the people around him.

The national security apparatus that he's built around him, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, General McMaster, they have been, I think, very concerted and very unified in their approach in representing the kinds of threats that Russia poses and trying to bring that to the fore and trying to deal with the issue.

Chairman Dunford as well, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also has been very candid about this. So the people around him, I think, have been trying to bring this to the fore. I think the president, himself, because of his worries about his legitimacy, just won't bring himself to that.

LEMON: Ambassador Woolsey, I have to ask you, given what you said. You said you haven't seen nothing yet. This president's reluctance to forcefully condemn Vladimir Putin and the Russian interference signal to Putin that he got away with it, so therefore, he's going to keep trying it? As you said, you haven't seen nothing yet.

WOOLSEY: It's not to my mind a question of condemnation or one -- Teddy Roosevelt had it basically right. Speak softly and carry a big stick. What we need to do is to be able and ready to blister the entire Soviet system into giddy near nothingness once they start doing something like this again.

And we can smile while we do it. We don't have to say a word to Putin. This idea of going after Putin, and saying, hey, cut it out, as if you're a couple high school athletes, one guy takes some step that is not kosher in the rules. I just don't see why people think that they're accomplishing anything by the president saying something like cut it out or quit it or whatever. They're not.

You need to be -- have real strong and effective steps you can take the way Reagan and Casey did in the early '80s when the Russians were trying to steal some of our technology and instead of stopping them or talking to them about it, they changed the technology so when the Russians grabbed it and used it in their pipelines, it blew up the natural gas pipelines.

And I think Reagan and Casey both smiled and they even sympathized a little bit with the Russians. You don't need to yak about this. You need to be effective.

LEMON: And acknowledge, though, that there is an issue, at least, because they always say how can you acknowledge the problem if you don't admit that there is a problem? So now we've discussed Russia.

WOOLSEY: Not publicly.

LEMON: Yes. Exactly. So now we've discussed Russia. What is this administration doing about Russia? North Korea, now what? That's after the break.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Officials tell CNN military options for ready to be presented to President Trump if Pyongyang conducts a missile test that indicates the regime is getting closer to being able to attack the U.S.

Back now with Ambassador James Woolsey and rear Admiral John Kirby. Admiral, we heard an ominous warning about North Korea today. Listen to the National Security Advisor General McMaster and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H.R. MCMASTER, UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The threat is much more immediate now and so it's clear that we can't repeat the same approach, failed approach of the past. The president has directed us to not do that. And to prepare a range of options, including a military option which nobody wants to take.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Why is the threat more immediate?

KIRBY: Because every time Kim Jong-un and his regime test, whether it's a nuclear test or whether it's a missile launch, they learn. They advance their technology, they advance their knowledge, they advance their programs and we were saying this before the Trump administration under the Obama administration in the last winning months. They continued to get better at these technologies and at these

programs. And so I agree with General McMaster in this case that the threat is more immediate now. And I also as said with Russia, I got to give some credit here to the national security apparatus that Trump has assembled because they have taken this threat very, very seriously even before they were in office.

They were looking at North Korea as the most precarious threat and working of options. So I think this is something they have actually given quite a lot of thought to.

[22:54:57] LEMON: All right. Speaking of options, as we have heard so many times that the options in North Korea, the options are limited. What does that mean by military options?

KIRBY: The options, I mean, there's no great options here except to continue to try to build international pressure to get the regime to stop its development -- the development of its program.

Military options are certainly mo nobody's preferred choices and because of the potential huge configurations and violence that they can cause on the peninsula. But that said, that's what -- that's what the Pentagon has to do. They are a planning organization and it's not like they haven't had military options in the past. They have.

Obviously they're reviewing some of them and maybe they're updating some of them but it's important to have them. We have, you know, some 30,000 or so troops on the Peninsula and they're trained and ready to fight, as they say ready to fight tonight. It's important to make sure that they have the resources and the planning apparatus behind them if it comes to that. But clearly nobody wants I think to get to that point.

LEMON: Ambassador, this president and many before him have relied on China to put the pressure on North Korea. But the president recently tweeted, he says, "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi and China to help the North Korea -- to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried."

Have the Chinese tried and what more can the U.S. do to pressure them to control Kim Jong-un?

WOOLSEY: They took some positive steps with respect to North Korea and coal imports. But generally the Chinese are kind of slow rolling us on this. They help a little bit here and there but they are not doing what they need to in order to lean hard on North Korea and they're the only country that really has much influence over it.

There's another problem, which is that the press covers all of this and a lot of the public statements from pubic officials make it sound as if we can't effectively -- we don't really need to worry about North Korea's ballistic missile capability unless and until they can have an intercontinental missile that can reach the United States and have accurate reentry and all of what it needs.

I don't think that's the case and I think most serious students of these matters would agree that they could put a scud missile and scud is essentially a modern version of World War II German V2 45, 50 countries have them. They put a scud missile on a containership, pull into a harbor or a bay on the coast and launch it up into lower orbit 50, 100, 200, 300 miles into space, detonate it on any time they want.

And find that they've knocked out a big share of our electric grid. There are things one can do that make this a very hard problem now, not five years from now when the North Koreans won't have an accurate intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit a small target precisely. They don't need that. They can do a lot with what they now have.

LEMON: That is a very stark perspective and s stark reality. Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.

[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)